October 14, 2010

A Brief History of Karissa in Glasses (and forecast of the future Karissa without glasses)


I was four years old sitting in the back of my parents' Astro. My forehead was cold, pressed against the window, squinting up at the light poles in the Pizza Hut parking lot. The lights always looked like starbursts to me and I had to squint to make the lights look round. When I told my parents this, it earned me a trip to the optometrist where I was outfitted with pink plastic frames and told not to break them.

When I graduated from high school, my mom helped me assemble a photo collage to exhibit at my graduation party, showing how I grew up over the years. Of course I noticed how I grew and changed (and how the clothing did not grow in reciprocation... let's just say I went through a flood pants stage thanks to growth spurts), but I also noticed my glasses. Pink plastic frames looking cute as a new accessory. Fun, bold multicolored frames with bangs tucked behind them. Thin gold wire frames trying to disappear into my quickly maturing face. Thinner wire frames with horribly yellowed Transitions lenses. The thinnest wire frames I could get with my not-so-great prescription framing a face framed by bracketed teeth and a frown.

Then, when I was sixteen, I got contact lenses. (And my braces came off.) I was a completely new person. I was liberated. When I played softball, I didn't have to worry about my glasses breaking, fogging, or sliding. When I went to school, boys noticed me for a change. (They still didn't ask me out, but at least I got noticed instead of being written off entirely.) I felt capable. I felt pretty.

The photo collage at my graduation party emphasized to me how I grew up hating my eyewear. I've always wanted to live life without it. Contacts were freeing, but oh, how they hurt some days. College as a literature major meant long days (and long nights) of reading, studying, writing, reading, studying, writing, writing, reading, and writing. And much of it involved a computer screen (thank you, blog). Eye strain meant giving my contacts a rest and taking up the familiar, but undesirable specs. By this point thicker plastic frames were popular again and I had what my father called my "librarian glasses." Not exactly what I was going for, but what was I going for anyway? I needed to see in order to study and I was at college to study. So I wore my glasses with disdain, only putting in my contacts for dates or events where I might be photographed.

When I was 20, a junior in college, I saw my opthamologist about vision correction surgery. He said my eyes weren't quite stabilized, to wait a few years and come back. Once my prescription hadn't changed for two years he said we could begin to talk about corrective surgery.

Fast forward. Graduate school, requiring much of the same commitment to reading, studying, and writing as college, meant wearing my glasses more. After starting graduate school, I took my job as a technical writer. At my job, I read all day. I read everything that passes in front of me, whether it's printed or on a screen. Clearly this is not a job designed for contact lens wear. By this point, my contacts had become a myth to me, a legend I caught glimpses of in photos from yesteryear (i.e., high school and college). The last time I ordered contacts was 2008. I get four pair a year and wear each pair for three months. I should have run out in September 2009, but I still have one pair left. This order lasted longer because I wore them so infrequently. At my first eye exam after starting this job, I didn't even bother to order contacts. After crying because without my glasses I couldn't even see the giant E from across the room, I just ordered another pair of glasses. I have a glasses wardrobe—three pair.

This year, after I turned 25, I went back to see my opthamologist about vision correction surgery. We went through the same set of tests and (though I still got emotional in the exam room) my doctor had better news for me. He referred me to an eye surgeon. After several more tests and measurements, it's official: I will have a photo refractive keratectomy (PRK) performed on my eyes in November 2010.

I'm thrilled, yet somewhat terrified. It's exciting to think about waking up in the morning and not having to reach for a pair of glasses right away, not squinting to read my alarm clock, not having to switch between my prescription glasses and prescription sunglasses, not having to feel my glasses slide down my nose while working out, not having to pay upwards of $400 for contact lenses ever again... But I am aware of the risks too. I trust my doctors and I believe they have my best interests in mind.

My left eye is the bad one. The doctors say my right eye could be corrected with typical lasik surgery; it's not that bad. My left eye, however, is already pushing the limits for being able to get contact lenses because of my astigmatism, so I knew it would be tough. And it is. The doctors deliberated over my left eye for a week before having me back to the office to decide what procedure to do. It's possible that I might have to wear a thin pair of glasses immediately following the surgery. I'll have to wait a little while my eyes heal and meet with the doctors again. My left eye could need a touch-up to ensure it's corrected properly, but I'll do it if that's what it takes.

So now, after twenty-one years of wearing glasses, I am setting myself free. While it's not cheap, it's less than I'd spend on contacts over a period of just a few years, so financially it's worth it. But when I'm free of my glasses forever, it will be worth it for the ways it will change my life.

But will I miss wearing my glasses? In some ways, yes. They're part of my life. Clearly if I need them first thing in the morning before my feet even hit the floor, they're important. I care for them. They give me my look. I am finally comfortable with wearing glasses seven days a week, thanks to maturity and needing them badly for both work and school. (The only reason I still have that solitary pair of contact lenses is for special events and roller coaster riding, which might be considered a special event.)

My look (if I do say so myself) is studious, polished. Academic. Professional (Remember my dad's "librarian glasses" remark?) I've always wanted people to take me seriously, and I feel like my glasses give me that little something extra to make sure I'm on the mark. Admit it: society thinks people who wear glasses must be smarter/geekier. Otherwise pop culture wouldn't be littered with nerds and geeks wearing glasses. Although this begs the question: does glasses-wearing beget nerdiness or does nerdiness demand glasses-wearing (whether it's from reading nonstop or getting cross-eyed playing with circuitry and chemistry sets). Would I have become a geek without my horrible eyesight or did my horrible eyesight buy me passage into the gild of the geeks?

I will, in some ways, miss my glasses. But I think there is so much more to experience without them. No more smudges. I can buy nice sunglasses and actually wear them. No more fogged lenses when coming in from the cold. I can wear ski goggles without crunching my frames. No more spotty lenses from getting caught in the rain. I can read while laying down and not have my face hurt from my frames pressing in all the wrong places.

Yes, it will be nice to be glassesless.


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